The House Sitter
Lauren Turner waved to her friend Alice Hollander as she stepped into Duffy's Tavern.
"Ali! Over here!"
Alice saw Lauren sitting in one of the booths with a glass of wine already in front of her. Alice waved in response but she couldn't bring herself to smile as she crossed the room - until she saw that Lauren had ordered a glass of wine for her too.
"Thank God," Alice said as she slipped into the bench across from Lauren and took a sip from the wine glass.
"How's it going?" Lauren asked with concern. "You look fagged."
"Life hasn't been going the way I thought it would, has it?" Alice sighed.
"I suppose not," Lauren admitted.
"Although at least the fighting has stopped," Alice said with a shrug. "That's a good thing, right?"
"I suppose," Lauren replied.
"This isn't how I saw myself at this point in my life, though," Alice said.
"Why would you?" Lauren asked. "How were you supposed to know your bastard husband would cheat on you?"
"Thanks for inviting me," Alice said. "Any time I'm out of Chelsea's house is a good thing."
"She loves having you," Lauren assured her.
"She's a newlywed trying to take care of her new husband," Alice said, rolling her eyes. "The last thing she needs is her poor broken mother hanging around 24/7."
"School gets out in a few weeks," Alice reminded her friend. "Then what am I going to do with myself?"
"Well, that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you," Lauren told her with a grin.
But Alice was too distracted by her racing thoughts to ask Lauren what her reason might be.
"I see Chelsea just starting out in her marriage and I can't help but think of how it was for me and Francis when we were doing the same thing," Alice sighed.
"Does it really matter now?" Lauren asked.
"The kid we raised together, the house we made our own…..what happened to my life?"
"You're living it," Lauren insisted. "Just differently now."
Alice let out a heavy sigh. "Maybe I shouldn't have walked away."
"Of course you should have," Lauren said strongly. "You walked away with your head held high. You did the right thing."
"You know, if I could go back in time….."
"Well, you can't," Lauren cut her off. "Stop thinking about when you were sweet sixteen falling for Francis back in high school."
"I was worth it, wasn't I?"
"You were worth it," Lauren assured her.
"Have I changed that much?" She worried.
"Not at all," Lauren smiled. "You're still the same cute, kind, considerate wonderful person you've always been. And you still look great. You just need to get your smile back. That long brown hair of yours is gone but that frizzy shorter look works just fine."
"Not that it really matters anymore," Alice pouted.
"You're going to be fine," Lauren said.
Alice eyed her. "You look exactly the same."
"Not counting the twenty pounds added to my ass and gut," Lauren laughed. "But thanks for trying."
"David didn't leave you."
"Because he knows I'd kill him," Lauren said plainly.
"Did I ever really know Francis?" Alice wondered aloud.
"Romance is all we thought about at sixteen" Lauren said. "Exchanging notes and talking on the phone late into the night. Milk Shakes at Johnny C's."
"It never occurred to me that things would change," Alice admitted. "He always treated me right."
"Like a Queen," Lauren agreed. "But sometimes love blinds."
"It was a nice wedding wasn't it?"
"Perfect," Lauren said.
"We were happy."
"You were happy," Lauren confirmed.
"I thought I was going to be his wife until one of us died."
"Of course you did."
"So what happened?"
"Life happened," Lauren said. "Raising a kid. Paying the mortgage. Work. Time. Who the fuck knows? I guess he got the itch. Or the mid-life crisis. What difference does it make? He screwed you over."
"I never sensed anything was wrong," Alice heaved. "We were facing the same challenges every married couple faces. I loved him and I thought he loved me."
"I thought we were happy. I thought we were fine."
"You have to stop beating yourself up over this," Lauren advised.
"People are supposed to talk their problems out instead of arguing and fighting all the time," Alice sighed. "Maybe I failed him as a wife."
"It takes two to tango, Honey," Lauren said. "Don't miscast him as Mr. Perfect in all this. He had his faults. He made his mistakes. He made his choices."
"No matter how hard I tried it just didn't seem right," Alice sighed. "He was drifting away, emotionally and physically."
"Yeah, when the sex stops, the red lights are flashing," Lauren agreed.
"He wasn't as home as much," Alice recalled. "Always had an excuse – working late, hanging with the guys, whatever."
"Let it go," Lauren advised. "It's over."
"I still loved him like I always had," Alice said. "But I knew he didn't want to be with me anymore."
"That's on him, not you."
"I could have done more," Alice frowned.
"He cheated on you, Ali!" Lauren said, rolling her eyes. "My God. And then he had the gall not to move out."
"I would have forgiven him," Alice said. "How could he throw away our marriage like that?"
"I don't know," Lauren shrugged. "How's therapy going?"
Alice couldn't help but laugh. "Lots of sleepless nights but I'll start to feel okay, eventually."
Lauren nearly dropped her wine class. "Jesus."
"Francis is starting all over, I guess," Alice shrugged. "Can you imagine if Chelsea gets pregnant soon too?"
"I'm so sorry, Ali," Lauren sighed.
"More wine?" Alice asked bravely.